Paul Olsen

on the way…not there yet

Why do I even care?

I always thought I would find a way out of this.  I never wanted this job, and I always thought that sooner or later something else would come up, another door would open, and I’d take it.  I’d get out of this, if I could, leave the flock behind, let someone else do it.

And I have come close, I tell you; more than a few times, oft as not through tears.  The church can be a rough country.  I have pled Jesus like Peter to go away and leave me alone, get out of my boat.  There are a lot of Jonahs, Elijahs, and Simon Peters among the clergy.  Even Jesus prayed the Father to let this cup pass from me.

But now I have found something within me deep as marrow, my very being, some sharp hook in my soul, that will not let me go; something tenacious, that bids me stand where I am, something begging instead, “Stay with me!” even as I choose to stay.

I am a pastor.  I just am.  I am a shepherd.

Reluctant shepherd, whiskey priest, saint and sinner though I may be, or wish I were—I am a shepherd, a pastor.  If ever I have muttered, “damn this calling!”—it is nonetheless mine, it is me, and I accept it, I treasure it and claim it.  Because I have always known it claims me; and God does not let go.

In the past couple of months, I have wondered much why that is.  Why do I care, and why now, especially?  Why in pandemic, when the wisest course might seem to cut and run, why this passionate determination welling up to stay and be a shepherd?  Why has my primary concern become to “tend the flock of God that is my charge” (1 Peter 5:2) and assure its safety?

I have never found “shepherd” a very meaningful metaphor for pastoral ministry before, although of course that’s what it is—pastor, pastoral, pasture, herd keeper, shepherd: all of it in the very word.

You probably can recall the first line of Psalm 23 by heart, but the Bible repeatedly uses shepherd as a metaphor for leadership from Genesis to Revelation.  In Genesis (48:15-16), Jacob refers to “the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day.”  In Numbers (27:16-17) Moses asks God to appoint “someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”  The prophets promise that God will give the people good shepherds once again, and they sternly warn leaders who have not been good shepherds (Is. 40:11; Jer. 50:6; Ez. 34:23; Zech. 10:3).

In Revelation, Christ is both Lamb of God and Shepherd of God’s people (7:17).  And of course Jesus in the Gospel of John refers to himself as the Good Shepherd “who lays down his life for the sheep” (10:1-18). 

And in his last words before the cross, Jesus prays the Father to protect us, saying, “While I was with them I protected them in your name that you have given me.  I guarded them, and not one of them was lost…”—as if that alone would be enough to sum up his earthly ministry:  Not one of them was lost.

Not one of them was lost—that has become a visceral prayer for me.  Safety of the flock—that has become more than a responsibility; it is a calling.  I chafe at claims to personal liberty that do not put the safety of others first and foremost.  I am appalled when worship is considered a right, something I am owed, rather than a gift and a duty I owe to my Creator.  I feel manipulated, a pawn in a political game; but I am a shepherd, and that stirs the mama bear in me.  My people will not be the canary in your coal mine.

And yet.  And yet.  Though I feel compelled to safeguard my flock.

I also realize that if I make this choice for you, or for me, I am making a choice others do not have the luxury to make.  They feel compelled—by social pressure, by threat of law in some cases, by anxiety and frustration, or by simple need and necessity—to go back to public life or to their workplace, whether they feel safe or not, whether it is safe or not.  Because they must put food on the table, and a roof over their children’s heads.  The poor who have always been with us; or the suddenly, shockingly, newly unemployed; or those who feel their livelihoods or life’s work slipping out of their grasp (which is some of us, surely, and all of us to some degree, sooner or later); or the communities of color who have borne the worst of this pandemic, now dealt yet another calloused blow, who have nowhere to take their frustration but the streets—they have few choices.

The economy does matter.  And as always, the poor and the vulnerable bear the sharpest burden of a society’s choice.

That is what we mean by “privilege,” and I have it, and you probably do too, but others do not.  And that makes me tremble, even when I think I am only doing what I am called to do, before a God who scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brings down  the powerful, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry, and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:46-55)—whose judgment is always to level the playing field (which is what makes God’s judgment not only righteous, but gracious).

For all the comfort in Jesus’ promise to protect and safeguard and care for us like a Good Shepherd, it is not always our safety that is foremost in his mind.  The Shepherd who warmly calls us by name also leads us out, and it is not always safe out there (the church is not closed, someone said, it is deployed).  “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16).  And if he prays for us, he also prays for them; and not only prays for them, but prays that we will share his passionate determination to safeguard and care for and share with them every lifegiving thing he has given us.

And so, fearful, faithful, or reluctant though we may be, we have a calling—me, and you.  Free as we may be, we still have choices to make.  But our decisions will be opportunities to serve, and our demand will be to remember the poor, and our concern will be first for the most vulnerable.  Whatever we do, we will do it trusting our Good Shepherd.  And we will do it always, not for ourselves, but for the love of neighbor.  Whenever and wherever we pray, our prayer will be for others. 

I am a shepherd.  Safety is my job.  So is comfort, and so is challenge, and they are often inseparable, for me and for you.

So I will stay with the sheep, wherever that leads me, for however long.  Because there is no greater joy than discovering you are right where you are supposed to be, even if it is new country and nowhere you’ve ever been before; doing what you are supposed to be doing, even when you don’t know what to do; stumbling, but led by something bigger, greater than you are to something even now still being created.  It does not yet appear what that shall be, except that it shall be a new heavens and a new earth.

And why on earth would you want to walk away from that?

June 4, 2020 — written to my congregation, as political pressure mounted on churches to reopen, and we weighed, as we still do, the wisdom of meeting in person with many high-risk individuals while cases continue to increase rather than decrease.

© Paul R. Olsen

Fish For Breakfast

May 6, 2020


John 21:1-25  (& Matthew 5:1-11)

Good morning.
A friend of mine challenged me to do a sermon while cooking,
so I accept the challenge.
Today we’re having fish for breakfast.

And why not? Jesus did.
John, who always tells the best stories,
tells us how it happened.

It’s a few weeks after that first Easter;
Jesus has appeared to his beloved several times,
but still they don’t know what to do.
They’re scared, anxious, confused,
believing one day, doubting the next,
afraid to go out in public,
isolating at home.

Until Peter can’t take it anymore.

I imagine him sitting in a window,
looking out on the street below,
maybe a little depressed.
What is he going to do now?
They left everything they knew
and followed Jesus.
What does he have to go back to?

Maybe he thinks back to the first day he met Jesus:
they’d fished all night,
which was the best time to fish the Sea of Galilee,
and had nothing to show for it.
They were tired,
they just wanted to clean the nets and go home.

But up walks Jesus,
fresh as a daisy after a good night’s sleep,
and he’s fired up like a preacher,
and he needs a pulpit.

So he gets in with Simon Peter,
tells him to put out a way,
and preaches to the crowd on the beach.
Then he told Peter,
let’s go back out and catch some fish.
Dumb idea, wrong time of day,
but, hey, it’s Jesus,
easier to humor him than argue with him,
so Simon does it.

And they haul in the second biggest catch of Peter’s life.

Which is too much for Peter,
who falls on his knees,
and begs, not to follow Jesus,
but for Jesus to go away and leave him alone.
He doesn’t need this disruption in his life,
and he screams one of the best prayers of the bible:
Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!

Never one to take no for an answer, Jesus just says,
Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

Found this lovely fish yesterday,
so we’re going to
put a few more scores in the side,
take this paste of turmeric, garlic, crushed cilantro stems,
some white pepper, a little onion powder, some dried basil leaves,
and just enough olive oil to hold it together,
rub it over both sides,
toss a little fresh thyme inside on top of some sliced limes,
and stick it in the oven.

Back in a sec.

So,
Simon Peter, sitting in that window,
life disrupted once again,
pensive on a sea breeze,
out of the blue announces,
I’m going fishing,
grabs his gear, and heads for the door.

What else can he do?
Fishing is all he knows,
the sea has always been his solitude.

Four or five other disciples chime in,
Wait—I’ll go.
Me too.
I’m in.
Just let me grab some sunscreen.

And they do it—they just go fishing.
And they fail;
they don’t catch a thing—nothing.

Just after daybreak,
the worst thing that can happen to a luckless angler, happens.
There’s this guy on the shore,
asking if they’ve caught anything;
and worse yet,
he starts offering advice.
Throw the net on the right side, he says;
right or left, what’s the difference?
But easier to humor him.

And they haul in the biggest catch of Simon Peter’s life.

Impetuous Peter drops everything,
jumps in the sea,
leaves all the work to the others,
and swims to Jesus.

He’s not going to let him get away this time.
He wants answers,
he wants promises,
he wants Jesus.

Jesus, who always did like a good meal,
has a fire going,
and probably like he used to do, says,
“You guys sit back; I’ll cook this morning.”

Fish for breakfast.

But for Peter,
it’s the hardest meal he’s ever had to swallow.
The man he denied three times is feeding him.

And in that quiet moment,
when everybody else pushes back from the table,
satisfied and satiated,
Jesus turns to Peter and says,
Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?

Does he even look up,
when he answers,
Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
Feed my sheep,
Jesus says.

A second time Jesus asks, Do you love me.
Yes, Lord! Just drop it.
Tend my sheep
, Jesus says.

A third time:
Do you love me?

How can there not be tears in his eyes
when Peter stammers,
Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.

Follow me, Jesus says.

I love that that the resurrected Christ
keeps hunting down these hapless, discouraged disciples
and feeds them.
And sends them.

I think that all too often,
maybe especially these days,
we think our mission is to hold worship services for ourselves;
it’s not.

Worship feeds us,
we are hungry for it,
we long for each other
and to taste again God with us, God for us.

But worship is not our mission.

That’s why we spend very little time at it;
an hour or so,
and then we kick everybody out:
Go in peace, serve the Lord, remember the poor, share the good news.

The resurrected Christ sends us out into the world,
where we spend most of our lives,
to love and serve our neighbor—
what James calls, religion, pure and undefiled (James 1:27).

And that’s our mission:
Feed my sheep.

Feed the hungry.

Be a blessing to the poor
(and a thorn in side of the rich and the powerful).

Love and forgive.

Learn patience and grace with the faults of others,
and the failures of your own.

Make kindness a way of life.

And if ever you get the chance,
preach the good news
of the God who longs to feed us
as much as we long to be fed.

Fish for people
(remembering they are not trophies,
they are God’s beloved).

Here we go,
take a look at that.
Ummm!
Smells so good.
We’re going to serve that with a little coconut rice,
something green and fresh,
maybe some fruit.

This isn’t going to get me a cooking show,
but it’s going to be delicious.

The Incredulity of St Thomas

Last Sunday,
Easter Sunday,
Day of the Resurrection Sunday,
you could almost get away with a fluffy Easter.

Something soft and cuddly,
all milk chocolate, no nuts;
a go down easy   Easter.

Yeah, there was that bit about an earthquake,
some hint there that resurrection might just be
the most earth-shattering,
destructive, disruptive, catastrophic event
you’ll ever know;
angels that hit you like lightning,
leaving the bravest among us
shaking like dead men.

But you might have missed that.

Stay focused on that basket full of eggs,
all pastels and soft hues,
and you could just about get through Easter unscathed;
Call a truce with God for the holiday:
leave me out of this, God, and I’ll leave you out of this;
you leave me alone, God, and I’ll leave you alone.

But not today.

Today, Easter gets harder to believe.

Today’s Gospel story is about a God who will not leave you alone,
and doesn’t want to be left alone;
who won’t respect closed doors and goes where he wants to.

This is no God-in-a-box,
content to stay in whatever grave you would you put him,
to leave you alone in your doubts and questions,
or even leave you alone in
whatever it is you think you believe.

Your ideas about God,
your arguments and proofs and theologies are of little interest to God.

But your life—God wants that;
and even more, wants that through believing
you may have life in his name.

When it was evening on that day…
[that would be the evening of that first Easter day,
 when Jesus rose from the dead]

…and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Locked doors and fear—that is the opposite of faith.
Not doubt; doubt is not the opposite of faith.
If you have doubts and questions and arguments against God,
that’s fine;
you are not so far from faith and not so far from God
if you are still in the game,
no matter what side you are on.

Disbelief is not the opposite of faith; fear is.

Doubt is not the opposite of faith; apathy is.

Doubt, in fact, is universally
the rational and appropriate response to resurrection.

Everywhere in the Gospels, when Jesus rises from the dead,
the first response is always doubt.

How could it not be?

Who sees dead men walking around and says, “Oh, that’s natural.”

Resurrection by definition is Life beyond what you know;
you shouldn’t find that ‘easy.’

Like Mary Magdalene, and Peter, and John, and all the disciples,
you should find that astounding,
more than you can believe, bigger than you can grasp,
and utterly disruptive
of every notion about life you’ve ever had.

And utterly compelling.

This is a Jesus who won’t fit your definitions of what God should be.

When Jesus appears, nobody can recognize him;
he’s the same, and yet he’s totally different;
they think he’s a ghost, totally unreal,
until they realize he is more real than life itself.

Jesus passes through walls and locked doors
as if he was a disembodied spirit,
and yet he eats fish and breaks bread.

He carries his old wounds, yet in a body that is completely new;
he lets you touch him, but refuses to let you hold him;
he is free to come and go as he pleases,
yet issues commands and gives commissions.

And that’s God.

God is never what you expect, and always more than you expected.

You don’t get to choose the God you want or the God you wish for.

God is God, and God chooses;
God will be and God will do whatever God chooses.

God chooses; not you—or God would not be God at all.

God is free from all your expectations,
because God is God!

That’s the disturbing, disruptive thing about resurrection.

Resurrection is terrifying—it should be terrifying—because it means
we have finally run up against something we can not control,
something bigger than we are,
something capable of making demands of us,
something deserving of faith and worship.

Resurrection is the overwhelming,
utterly disruptive, all-demanding,
out-of-your-control presence of God in your life.

But Thomas…, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Ah, Thomas—I love this guy,
precisely because he doubts and questions and argues,
precisely because he finds faith hard.

You’d expect Jesus to come back from the dead a little miffed.
These guys abandoned him; they deserted him and left him to die alone;
they proved themselves utterly faithless and unreliable.

But in fact, Jesus doesn’t abandon those who abandon him;
he comes looking for them.

And Jesus doesn’t scorn the doubtful;
he searches them out.

Doubt receives a welcome from God,
because God loves to wrestle.

Indeed, faith and doubt seem always woven together,
lest your faith be in your self,
in the strength of your convictions,
or in your ideas about God,
rather than in God himself.

Thomas asks for nothing that the others haven’t already received.

When Jesus came to the other disciples,
after he said, “Peace be with you,”
…he showed them his hands and side.

If Thomas simply wants the same experience of faith,
how can you blame him?

I have always been envious of other people’s experiences of faith;
I pray God for somebody else’s faith,
for the easy way they seem to believe,
for the easy way their lives seem be rolling in the blessings of God
(or at least it always seems easier to me).

But in fact, I’m stuck with my life,
and I have to live out my faith
and the way God chooses to act in my life.

Just like the other disciples, Thomas has lost his Lord;
he loved Jesus as much as any of them,
he is as wounded by Jesus’ death as they are,
and as lost and fearful and discouraged as any of them.

They are rejoicing, they have seen the Lord;
but Thomas hasn’t,
and if Thomas wants to nurse his wounds a little longer,
until God gives him a sign,
why not let him?

But Jesus won’t let him.

Trying to pin God down,
trying to get God to be the God you want God to be,
trying to get God to give you the life you wish for
instead of the life he created for you,
trying to find an easier way to believe in God
or an easier God to believe in—
it never works.

God will resist you to the end.

God will insist on being the God
God chooses to be, not the God you would choose.

I love Thomas, because sometimes
I look for signs and wish for an easier God, too.

The old English preacher, Charles Spurgeon,
once preached a sermon on this story where he told his congregation,

  “CRAVE NO SIGNS.

   If such signs be possible, crave them not.

   If there be dreams, visions, voices, ask not for them….

   Who are you, to set God a sign?

   What is it he is to do before you will believe in him?

   Suppose he does not choose to do it,
   are you therefore arrogantly to say,
   ‘I refuse to believe unless the Lord will do my bidding’?”

   And then, he says, when you wish for an easier life or an easier God,
   when you are nursing your own wounded faith,
    look instead “to the wounds of our Lord.”

Jesus does come looking for Thomas like a lost sheep,
and when he finds him, he presents him with his wounds:
Put your finger here and see my hands.
Reach out your hand and put it in my side.
Do not doubt but believe.

It’s not proof that Jesus is offering Thomas, but a call to faith;
a call to get his mind off his own wounds and troubles
and look up at something even greater.

What Jesus offers Thomas is not proofs for his doubts,
or answers for his questions,
but a call to a bigger life.

Jesus responds to your doubts
not by bowing to your demands,
but by placing demands on you.

In other words, by acting like God!

By giving you, not easy answers,
but a demanding, empowering, total call on your life.

Thomas finally comes to faith,
not by getting what he wants,
but by giving up his demands,
and getting more God than he wanted,
a God he will have to wrestle with for the rest of his life,
a God worth wrestling with for the rest of his life.

We have finally run up against something we can not control,
something bigger than we are,
something capable of making demands of us,
something deserving of faith and worship;
a God big enough to believe in,
a God big enough to follow,
a God big enough to give your life to.

We think of Thomas as a notorious doubter;
but in the Eastern Orthodox Church,
this first Sunday after Easter is sometimes called St. Thomas Sunday.

And Thomas is remembered for his faith—
for confronting Christ and wrestling with God;
for working through his doubts and questions,
not to answers, but to faith;
not to certainty, but to confidence;
not to a static definition of God,
but to a living relationship with God—
a relationship with a dynamic God
who comes and goes as he pleases,
but always with a surprise up his sleeve,
always speaking peace and forgiveness.

Thomas, they say, took his doubts to India, and wrestled with God there.

Tradition says that Thomas was the apostle who traveled to India,
and started churches there,
passing on his faith in the resurrected Lord
to generations of Christians.

So who knows what may come of your faith,
or even of your doubts?

Just stay in the game,
and welcome the God who welcomes you.

Amen.

EASTER 2 A – APRIL 19. 2020 – KING OF GLORY LC, BOISE, ID – JOHN 20:19-31 – © Paul R. Olsen

These Bones Shall Live Again

April 6, 2020


Here’s a God question for you,
a question God puts to you:
“Mortal,” God calls you, “can these bones live?”

I’ve been thinking about the prophet Ezekiel,
prophesying to that valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37.
And I’ve been thinking about these dry, anxious, fearful times
we’re living in.

We are all anxious right now,
whether you feel it or not—
because I’m not talking about a feeling
but something more like a state of being.
We’ve been threatened by something we can’t see,
a virus, a danger we don’t know how to stop.

I think we have come face-to-face with our mortality,
our inherent human weakness,
our helplessness;
we see ourselves for what we really are—
mere mortal creatures of fight or flight,
and it’s driving us crazy.

We are helpless and don’t know what to do,
so we will do anything
just to feel like we are doing something,
even if it’s nothing—
so we binge shop on toilet paper
(our defense against mortality is mere tissue paper),
as if chucking a few rolls at this thing
will knock it off course.

Who can go to the grocery store,
watch everybody else,
and not feel
like they should scoop up some more
of whatever it is they don’t really need?

Our humanity,
our human-ness,
is showing.
So I love this story:
God brings Ezekiel into the wilderness,
and sets [him] down in the middle of a valley … full of bones …
there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

God’s people had lost hope,
they’d lost everything,
they couldn’t see the future,
didn’t know what to expect next.
There is no more life in them,
they don’t know how to live in these times.
They are past fear and past anxious:
They are helpless and hopeless
as dry bones.

So God asks Ezekiel, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

And the answer is obviously—no.
But Ezekiel is stretched to his limits, too,
and prophet or not,
he can’t bring himself to face the obvious.
And yet, can’t bring himself to put his trust in God, either.

So he vacillates:
“O Lord GOD, you know.”

“Prophesy to these bones,” God says,
“say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones:
I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you,
and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live;
and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

So Ezekiel does what he’s told.
He prophesies, and before he can get the words out of his mouth,
there was a noise, a rattling,
and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

Flesh and skin covers the bones like real bodies—
but there was no breath in them.

“Prophesy to the breath,” God says,
“prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
Come from the four winds, O breath,
and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

… and the breath came into them, and they lived…

And suddenly, it’s a new beginning;
it’s like God creating human life all over again,
just like the second chapter of Genesis.

Then [God says],
“Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost;
we are cut off completely.’
Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD:
I am going to open your graves,
and bring you up from your graves, O my people;
and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live,
and I will place you on your own soil;
then you shall know that I, the LORD,
have spoken and will act, says the LORD.”

God is a God of life.

In these dry and anxious times,
whenever you start to feel helpless,
whenever you find there is nothing you can do,
but you find yourself looking for something,
anything to do,
just to feel like you are doing something,
even if it’s nothing—

Driven Outward and Inward

April 6, 2020


Yesterday, out of the blue, an old friend 500 miles away, sent me a text message—just wanted to send greetings, she said. We hadn’t been in touch for over two years.

Same day, a friend thousands of miles away in Brazil, posts on Facebook how in the craziness of these days the whole world is living through, her personal practice of meditation has become more meaningful to her—it’s what has gotten her through, she says.

But that’s what I’ve noticed: Faced with a virus we cannot control, self-isolating out of love and concern for our neighbors, we seem to be driven both outward and inward.

We cannot touch, we cannot even get close to one another; if we venture out at all we do so cautiously, with distance and avoidance. And yet.

I see families doing things together, parents and children out riding bicycles, walking in the park. “Come see Disney!” I find written on the sidewalk, and I follow the arrow to a home where a family has covered their driveway with Disney character chalk drawings, reaching out with a joyful gift to all their neighbors.

People I meet give me a wide berth, but they also give me a smile, or a wave or a nod; no longer buried in their cell phones, they look up to acknowledge my presence. We are more distant from each other than ever, yet we feel a need to reach out to each other, and a stranger’s subtlest gesture of recognition is overwhelmingly touching to me.

Some of you, like me, live alone. Being careful for yourself and others, you may have been self-isolating for weeks or months. I realized the other day that it had been 30 days since I had touched or been touched by another human being, and that it very likely would be at least another 30 days. One of the last people to touch me was a nurse, who had to in order to put a needle in my arm. And it made me think how very important touch is to healing and health and wholeness; and how very hard it must be on our health care workers to find ways to care for us safely with distance.

In every Easter story, there is closeness and distance, presence and absence, connection and isolation, rejoicing together and meditative solitude. I love the story in the 20th chapter of John’s gospel, where the Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty; lost and lonely, she just weeps. Jesus, on the other hand, is out walking in the garden, as if nothing could be more important upon rising from the dead than to smell the flowers again. But he breaks his contemplation to reach out to her by name: “Mary.” So close! But he will not let her hold him.

Thomas, alone and honest in his doubts, yet again Jesus reaches out to him; Thomas, who has to touch Jesus to believe.

This Sunday, we will hear of two disciples walking the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)—6 feet apart from each other, we can only imagine. A stranger comes near, maybe a little too near, but in their fear and confusion they cannot recognize the presence of Jesus in their midst. Not until he breaks bread do they recognize how close Jesus had been all along—but then, of course, he vanishes.

In the loneliness of isolation, in the pandemic fear of others and yet the pressing need for connection with them, I find a lesson I hope I will keep and never lose. I hope I will remember how these days have driven me both inward and outward. I hope I will remember how prayer and contemplation became not only difficult but ever more necessary to me; how, driven inward, the emptiness of my prayer nonetheless stumbled upon the fullness of God, nearer than I can ever realize.

And I hope I will remember that the love of God is empty religion without the love of my neighbor. That nothing has been more important in these days than to honor the command to care for my neighbor, to make no decision without regard for her safety, to acknowledge my neighbor and the God-given connection that has always existed between us, to greet him and to love him as myself.

In Matthew’s gospel, the last words of Easter (Matthew 28:16-20) are both outward and inward: Jesus’ commission to broaden my heart to embrace all nations, all people; and Jesus’ promise: to remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.